John The Baptist
“Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matt 11:11)
Not only is this a remarkable statement Jesus made about John, but WHEN Jesus said it and the events that lead him to say it is very moving to me personally and it may just wreck you when we get to it later on in the sermon.
But first, who was John the Baptist?
– Son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, descendants of Aaron and members of the priestly order.
(see Luke 1:5-7)
- Elizabeth miraculously conceived John after the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Zachariah in the Holy Temple.“Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” – Luke 1:11-17
- John was consecrated by his parents to be a Nazarite (like Samson) from birth according to a command from Archangel Gabriel.
- Elizabeth was a relative of Jesus’ mother Mary therefore John is known as Jesus’ “cousin”.
(see Luke 1:35-37)
- When john heard the voice of Mary while in the womb, he jumped and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (see Luke 1:41-45)
- John lived in the wilderness and did not come into civilization until he was an adult. He wore camelhair clothing and ate locusts and honey.
“And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.” – Luke 1:80
“John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.” – Matt 3:4
- Although John had a noteworthy following, he was not associated or liked by the Jewish elite.
Herod wanted him dead – Matt 14:5
The Pharisees and Sadducees were confused as to who he was – John 1:19-27
- John was given the honor of preparing hearts for repentance, baptizing, and eventually baptizing Jesus the Lord himself.
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” – John 1:29-34
- John was believed to be the Messiah, which he denied. A prophet, which he denied (likely out of humility).
19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders[c] in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
– John 1:19-27
- Yet the Angel Gabriel, the Lord Jesus, and the scriptures testified that he was not only a Prophet, he was greater than a prophet and the greatest to have ever lived. He came in the spirit and power of Elijah.
“And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” – Luke 1:17
“As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:
“ ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’ (ref Mal 3)
Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” – Matthew 11:7-15
John the Baptist was incredibly important to Jesus’ mission, but he appeared to look & behave like a sociopathic lunatic, considered to be possessed by some. Certainly not blessed by God as the Prophet Elijah.
“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’” – Matt 11:18
But appearances can be (and often are) deceiving:
“…The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7
John The Baptist vs High Priest Caiaphas:
John the Baptist: Bible Teacher
High Priest Caiaphas: Bible Teacher
John: Gathered in the desert with few followers (compared to the Holy Temple), eating locusts and honey.
Caiaphas: Gathered in the grand temple in the center of God’s holy city of Jerusalem with massive crowds, eating feasts from sacrifices.
John: Appeared to not be blessed by God, unsuccessful according to worldly standards, a joke to the religious elite.
Caiaphas: Appeared to be very blessed by God, very successful according to worldly standards, well respected by the religious elite.
John: Baptized Jesus.
Caiaphas: Crucified Jesus.
The success of a Bible teacher, the grandeur of a building, nor the size of a congregation are in any way evidence of Jesus at work.
So how can we know Jesus is at work in a person or church? John’s life and teachings are an excellent example.
- The way of righteousness, the true Gospel of Jesus, attracts notorious sinners to repent and receive God’s mercy. It warns of God’s wrath while welcoming sinners to escape judgement. It does not desire or celebrate judgement coming on anyone, no matter the sin.
“28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” – Matthew 21: 28-32
* If the Gospel you’re preaching is not attracting people living in sin to hear your words then you’re not preaching the full Gospel. You’re probably too focused on the sin and impending judgement with not enough time spent on the forgiveness of God and deliverance from sin available through Jesus!
- The way of righteousness convicts and motivates a believer to truly repent and demonstrate repentance by walking in obedience to God.
“John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Luke 3:7-9
Paul taught the same…
“First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.” – Acts 26:20
- The way of righteousness does not exalt one’s self, but rather exalts Jesus.
““I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” – Matt 3:11
“ You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”
31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all…
…The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” – John 3:28-31, 35-36
- The way of righteousness is content with what one has instead of being consumed with gaining more.
“Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” – Luke 3:12-14
- The way of righteousness leads a follower to be generous and share so that others do not lack.
“The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” – Luke 3:9-11
Remember Jesus said:
“For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness…” – Matt 21:32
And we find that the Early Church eagerly obeyed the way John & Jesus taught were the ways of righteousness:
“…And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” – Acts 4:33-35
Even those walking the Way of Righteousness have times of weakness and doubt, including John. Let’s look how Jesus responds to John’s weakness as it is how he responds to ours as well.
“When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:
“ ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” – Matt 11:2-15
This promise would bring the peace John needed to sustain him for the few difficult days he had remaining.
When Jesus had sent John’s disciples away, he said something stunning about John: no one born of women had ever been greater. This, right after John questioned who Jesus was.
Even the greatest, strongest saints experience deep darkness. Most of us will experience seasons when we feel as if we’ve been abandoned.
Jesus hears our pleas for help and is patient with our doubts. He does not condemn us. He loves us just as He loved John in his weakness and reminds us that all is made right in him.
The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the captives are set free and the good news is given to the poor.